The book’s space interviews: In the Shadow of the Pyramids AND The People


23 nov The book’s space interviews: In the Shadow of the Pyramids AND The People

Book: In the Shadow of the Pyramids AND The People
Photographs: Laura El-Tantawy
Book design: SYB
Editor: Self Published
Date of publishing: January 25, 2015 AND May 29, 2015
N° of copies: 500 AND 1500
Dimensions: 22.7×17.6×3.9 cm
Binding: Hand Bound AND Folded Binding
Paper: 120 gr core uncoated AND 100% recycled 45gr newsprint


Which are the 5 indispensable pictures for this book?

Photographer: [In the Shadow of the Pyramids] Certain images have stayed with me because of a memory, presence of a loved one while I took it or photographing it in a place of personal significance. These images are pg 5 (it’s not a photograph of me, but I feel this is a self portrait), pg 8 (my mother was next to me when I took this photograph), pg 11 (view from my childhood window), pg 32 (I hear the sound of Tahrir Square in this image) and pg 92 (the story of Safeya, a crying mother, always reminds of the reason the revolution happened and what we are fighting for as Egyptians).

P: [The People] This newspaper publication followed the release of “In the Shadow of the Pyramids”. This publication is intended for wider distribution, especially to an Egyptian audience. The publication is distributed for free in Egypt and sold for 25 across all main currencies (US, euro and GBP) to symbolically reference the January 25 revolution. This publication is more in your face and it’s intended as a historical document and a celebration and reminder of the January 25, 2011 revolution. Because of this it includes some new images in addition to the ones in the first book. The images of main importance are the series about the mothers and their children who were killed in the revolution (second insert). All of them, without any distinction are very important in this work as a reminder of the human cost of the revolution and how it left a permanent mark on people’s lives.

What is the framed structure of this book?

Book Designer: For me as a designer it is always an experience to discover the narrative of the photo’s in front of you. Of course you have the story and the objective of the photographer, but the photos themselves have to do it. In this case it was clear right away that editing the photo’s chronologicaly, like a reportage, wouldn’t do justic to the impact and power of what happened on Tahrir Square. So, although the photo’s were taken over a period of several years, I proposed to edit and sequence the as one night, starting out quite and rather peaceful, tension building up when evening falls, explosion of violence in the night and withdrawing and attending to casualties when day breaks. I thought a much stronger and actually more truthfull account of what happened. Luckily Laura agreed.

How did you choose your book designer?

P: [In the Shadow of the Pyramids] I chose Syb based on other books he designed. I wanted to work with a designer that designed based on emotion because it was very important for me that my book would be an emotional experience rather than a static one where readers just flip through the pages. But the deciding factor to work with Syb was when he asked me two main questions: Why I wanted to make a book and what I wanted to say with that book. Those were two key questions I had to answer myself and I was happy he asked me those questions on our first meeting. I also liked his personality and it’s very important for me to work with people I can be friends with.

P: [The People] I chose to work with SYB again because he was already familiar with the work and I wanted to work with his vision again to give the same images a different interpretation.

What was your approach to get into the photographic project?

BD: Not sure if I understand correctly what you mean, but maybe you mean, how I decide which project I take on and if so, why I took on this one? Actually I take on (almost) anything. I am not a photo-expert. I’m not busy with the question if I like the photo’s or if they are good enough for a book. That’s not how my mind works. My mind right away tries to figure out what the best way is to tell the story, great photo’s or not so great photo’s. Having said that, this project was something different. Right away it was clear that this project was special. Not only due to the quality of the photography and the drive and personality of Laura herself, but also because it covered an important episode in recent history. Not only covering it but almost making you feel that you were in the middle of it.

How did you develop the work on the book?

P: [In the Shadow of the Pyramids] I started working on this project in 2005. It was always intended as a book and it always had the same title “In the Shadow of the Pyramids”. The title is very much a metaphor for my own feelings toward a place where everything ends up buried in the shadow of its greatness. The initial idea was to explore the essence of Egyptian identity by exploring my own changed identity in a country I call home and juxtapose this with the country’s own transformation – so juxtaposing the personal narrative with the general one. I was constantly editing the work and at the end of my nine years working on the project, I had about 700 images as the final edit. I knew what I wanted to say with the book and this was important in the choice of images to include and ones to exclude in the final book. Syb and I worked on the final edit of the book and Syb came up with the concept of the flow of the images.

P: [The People] The choice of the newspaper version came after “In the Shadow of the Pyramids” sold out. I wanted the work to reach an Egyptian audience and the newsprint was an affordable and easy way to do so.

BD: I did work on this book as I do on every book; I shut down my brain and open my heart and see where that takes me. My work slogan is “Design with your heart, check with your head.” It is more about feeling than thinking, the thinking comes, because only feeling won’t get you there. You have to understand what you did to get to the essence of that and be able not to divert from it. So, I don’t spread out all the prints next to each other on the floor or table to find the right sequence. That works maybe for an exhibition, where you actually see all the photo’s next to each other, but doesn’t work for a book. In a book photo’s are ordered temporaly and not spacialy. At least not for me. It is all about the time that you need to turn the page to discover a totally new image or images. So I open an Indesign file with spreads. Start with one photo. See what photo has to come next and next, and before you know it there is a narrative. It is a constant shifting of intuition to reflection and back again. What I really liked was that I got a change to do it all differenly when Laura asked me to design The People too. It had to be totalley different with roughly the same photo’s. A newspaper format means bigger pages and less, which means that I had to find the feeling of the chaos-build up and build-down in a totally different way. Luckily Laura was adamant that some of the graphity should go in the paper. I was not convinced at first but love it now.


What’s the difference between the book and the photographic project slant?

P: [In the Shadow of the Pyramids] The book focuses on the revolution but my project as a whole explored Egypt through my own eyes. Both the book and my own project are not works about Egypt, but explorations of a place very dear to my heart through my own experience, my memories, hopes and dreams. It was very important for me to include the childhood images from my family album in the book because those childhood memories are a very big part of my impression of Egypt. I also wanted the book to be rough, dark, yet sentimental and passionate, so we discussed ways to bring this about in the design.

P: [The People] “In the Shadow of the Pyramids” focuses on the personal narrative through the revolution but “The People” is intended as a historical document to honor and celebrate the revolution. I found the newspaper much more of a challenge to do than the book because I wanted it to be in Arabic and I had a solid vision of what it should look like and say. Syb and I worked on bringing a different interpretation to the work. This publication is not personal in the sense of the narrative structure (no personal text or childhood images), but it’s a historical document. It is very important for me to celebrate the revolution as an Egyptian given it represents one of the most important chapters in modern Egypt’s history, especially to my generation of young Egyptians. I wanted to include elements of the revolution that made it special, such as its artistic movement through street graffiti drawings and the words people chanted on the streets. I want to memorialize the revolution, especially now that it’s slowly being erased from Egypt’s history. That’s why this design includes street graffiti drawings, Arabic handwritten text of the words people were chanting on the streets, it’s all in Arabic given it’s the language of the revolution and it’s the audience I am reaching out to. Also the image spreads hint at the sense of chaos and claustrophobia of that period.


How did you choose the materials and the kind of printing?

BD: It didn’t feel right to approach this book like a tabletop photobook. Glossy coated paper makes better reproductions in print, but wouldn’t help to get the gritty-ness of what happened accross. So we chose for a really rough uncoated paper and to use a lithographer who knows how to deal with that.

How the materials’ choices are connected to the photographic project?

P: [In the Shadow of the Pyramids] I am a tactile person by nature and I like to feel the texture of things. I wanted my book to be felt in every way. So the choice of paper, the choice of images and the choice of cover material, were all key factors to bring certain feelings into the experience of the book. We decided to use offset printing because of the small print run and the kind of dark and deep colors of the pictures. I knew what I wanted my book to say and there were key words such as dark, sad, sentimental, chaotic, passionate. All these words were discussed when we were making decisions about the book’s materials, size, paper, texture, color and font. We wanted the book to be like a diary size given the impressionistic text pieces I wrote through the years and also to be relatively small to allow for an intimate experience.

P: [The People] Newspapers have been in my family since as far as I can remember. My grandfather read the newspaper cover to cover each morning and I love the smell of the paper and the traces of ink it leaves on the hands. Newspapers are history and I love how they change with time – the paper ages and turns yellow and they take on a life of their own. Newspapers are historically important in Egypt as well and they are relatively cheap to produce. That’s why I chose newsprint as the material for this publication. The newspaper as a format is connected to the nature of the work itself and people who see the newspaper feel it’s the perfect format for the spread of the work. It’s also cheap to print and given it’s self published, I had to work within a tight budget to produce this number of publications.

You can also find all the interview archive on 3/3 blog: